If we trained dogs using the corrections system we have for humans

by John MacBeath Watkins

If we used our corrections system to train dogs, what would be the result?

Consider Jane Doe. She discovers a "gift" from one of her dogs on the bathroom rug. The prime suspects are Spot and Rover.

Spot was a marked dog.
She dials 911. Since no life is immediately at risk, it takes a couple hours before Officer McGruff arrives. He Mirandizes the dogs, and both put their tails between their legs and dummy up.

McGruff processes the physical evidence and sends a sample off for DNA testing. This takes three weeks, and implicates Spot.

Spot is arrested, booked, and makes bail. Two days later, another "gift" appears on the bathroom rug. Jane, by now fed up with the system, doesn't call this one in, but cleans up the mess and takes Spot and Rover for a walk.

The public defender assigned to Spot has 50 other dogs to represent, so he puts in for a continuance. It's three months before the trial, and the evidence is damning, which hardly matters, because Spot's lawyer falls asleep during the proceedings.

The judge, who has a great deal of experience in this sort of thing, believes that the best outcome would be if Jane had scolded Spot and, more importantly, got off her butt and took him for a walk before he became desperate. But a public that has lost its patience with Bad Dogs has passed a ballot initiative prescribing a mandatory sentence of six months at the pound. The pound is run by a private dog pound company, which hired signature gatherers to put the Bad Dog initiative on the ballot, and the dog pound employees union ran advertisements in support of the ballot initiative, helping pass it. Both have an interest in imprisoning as many dogs as possible.

So Spot gets six months, which is 42 months in dog years. His new cell mate, Bowser, has been in and out of the pound all his life. . Bowser tends to pee wherever he's standing when he gets excited, hump anything available, and gets in dog fights on a regular basis. He does, however, teach Spot what he needs to know to survive inside -- join a pack and learn your place in it, bark without moving your jaw, be ready to fight dogs from other packs at any time.

After two months (14 months in dog years) Spot is eligible for parole. The pound gives him back his collar, sets him outside and tells him he must find a family and must stay in touch with his parole officer.

Not many families want a dog with a history in the pound, nicks in his ears, and a prison tattoo the pack made him get before they'd protect him from other packs. He doesn't find a family, and falls into company with some dogs Bowser told him to look up if he needs help. They run feral, chase cats, raid chicken coops and poop wherever they please.

Spot's parole officer knows he hasn't checked in, but he's got 128 clients to keep track of and he can't devote much time to tracking down the ones that don't check in. The system doesn't do anything about Spot until he's caught acting as a lookout for a dog who is stealing liver from a butcher shop.

Back to the pound, more education in Bad Dog culture. By this time, Spot has learned that he's a loser, a Bad Dog, that his enemy is The Man, and he knows he'll go feral as soon as he gets out. It's become the life he knows.

Which raises an interesting point. Would our corrections system work better if it was run by dog trainers?

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